Help me start my guitar teaching side biz
October 3, 2006 5:58 PM   Subscribe

Last week AskMe helped me decide to start giving guitar lessons. I've taught many people how to play, but never formally or for pay. I live in an urban area surrounded by schools and rec centers, so getting the word out by flyer will be easy. In order to be properly prepared there is ...

What I need help with is:

1. The Flyer: How much info should it include?

2. Pricing: I have 2 hours a day M-F, but I have no idea how much I should charge or how long a typical lesson is. 1/2 hr?

3. How much should I cater to parents? Because of where I live, I imagine some parents are going to want to see lesson plans and stuff. Should I care or just teach my way? (I do have lesson plans, but every kid is different, so I would like to avoid giving parents false expectations.)

4. Is there any reason to avoid adult students? And/or should I charge them more?

I'm really excited about this, but nervous too. Any thoughts, ideas or inspiration is appreciated.
posted by snsranch to Work & Money (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My partner gives private lessons through a music store, so I'll tell you what he knows. (We're located in Minneapolis, MN, if it matters.)

1. For the flyer, include obvious details like name, phone number and general location of lessons. Also include general availability, and instruments you'll teach. Any music education you might have might be a plus to parents. (My partner has a degree in music, and noticed his lesson slots filled up faster when he mentiond this.)

2. His lessons run 1/2 hour, at $22-25 an hour, though he only sees about $14 of that since his lessons are through the store. I'd say anywhere from $20-30 per half hour would be normal. You might want to fish around your city to see what others are charging.

3. No parent's ever asked my partner for a lesson plan, and he's been teaching for two years. He has, however, had parents request catered lesson plans, if the student had special needs (Aspergers, etc.). Teach your way. For the most part, the parents have full confidence in you - they believe you know what you're doing, and will take your word for it. Some parents will want to sit in on the lesson. My partner allows this, so some of the other teachers in the store don't. Your call.

4. My partner doesn't enjoy the adult students as much, but there's no reason to avoid them. He doesn't charge extra, either. They can be rewarding in their own way - many times, you get past the basics quicker, and can move on to more interesting topics (songwriting, for example).

Good luck! Sounds like you're doing something great.
posted by Zosia Blue at 6:13 PM on October 3, 2006

Sorry, #2 should be $22-25 per HALF HOUR, not hour.
posted by Zosia Blue at 6:13 PM on October 3, 2006

Also! (Sorry to hijack the thread here.) You should type up a lesson contract for parents and students to sign, indicating what you'll do for them (teach 1/2 hour a week for x amount) and any other details along that line. Most importantly, however, be sure to indicate your absentee policy - if your student gives less than 24 hours notice or doesn't show up, will you still require them to pay? People will take your time for granted if you don't have a set system. This might not be a big deal for you (this is my partner's main income, so it's different for him), but it'll show parents that you're serious about your time.
posted by Zosia Blue at 6:21 PM on October 3, 2006

My experiences come as I've been a private tutor for quite some time. Here's what I can offer:

1. Depending on your privacy, you might want to include an email instead of a phone number. Include your credentials, what you are offering and price. Be as up front as possible to avoid wasted time on people calling/emailing for information that could have been on the poster.

2. Check out the ads in your area to see what prices others are asking for lessons, try the yellow pages and local music stores. I would think a 1/2 hour lesson is sufficient, especially for kids.

3. Again, be upfront. If you want to do this for your own enjoyment, make it what you want it to be. I would present parents with a general outline of what you hope to accomplish, but I really don't see why a parent would request a lesson plan from you. If they're that finiky, you don't want them as clients.

4. Sorry, I can't offer any help here, as I only tutor children.

Also, consider some sort of 'contract' with your clients. Include:
- Payment information (I always preferred cash) and a return check fee. (if you accept them)
-Lateness policy - If someone arrives 10 minutes late, will you go 10 minutes over? Or will you end on time? Can they be credited for that time?
-Cancellation policy - I've used a 24 hour notice policy with the option that they can possibly reschedule, anything last minute that isn't an emergency, I charge for.

As I've said, being up front about everything is very helpful, it also lets your clients see how seriously you take this, and they will too.

And above all, HAVE FUN, once it becomes un-fun, you're doing something wrong. ;)
posted by NoraCharles at 6:21 PM on October 3, 2006

This is from a million years ago (ca 1986), but my guitar/bass lessons (from some guy in the back room/basement of a guitar shop) were about 45-50 minutes long. There wasn't much of a lesson plan; I said "I want to learn to play this New Wave stuff" and they said, "So this is the Beatles/Led Zeppelin." I learned good things anyway (both of them met me part of the way - I did their stuff, they picked one of my songs). Playing songs together while talking about some music theory/music reading was pretty much the plan. My mother didn't care as long as I liked it.

Charge adults based on their experience; you may get a mix of beginners and more experienced students who have a particular goal, what you have to offer will depend on your own strengths.

More than anything, I got a lot of confidence from learning from adults. I did lots of work alone in my bedroom, but having some guy approve of my own take on Zep and Steve Miller meant a lot to me. My only other experience was in garage bands with kids my age, so it was really good for me to work with a "pro."
posted by Lyn Never at 6:24 PM on October 3, 2006

An ex-wife was a professional double reed player, and a teacher. If you are teaching kids, you are teaching "music" as much as you are teaching guitar. Most parents are going to expect their child to learn to read music, and to learn some rudiments of theory (circle of fifths, common chord structure, melody/harmony, etc.) So, you need to incorporate some of that in your program, along with teaching the proper fingerings of the instrument, strumming/picking, etc.

Moreover, you need to stimulate the creativity in kids, and encourage them in learning to practice and to study effectively. You may be called upon for advice in helping parents pick affordable, yet playable instruments, or recommend reputable shops and technicians for repair and purchase of accesories (and for many music teachers, affiliations with instrument shops and music stores are part of their earnings). And you need to be a fun activity for kids, to keep them coming back for more lessons.

The conventional length of most music lessons is an "hour." This is usually an "analyst's hour" of 50 minutes, with 5 minutes at either end of the lesson for hello/goodbye, packing and unpacking. If you're teaching very young kids, you might want to try 1/2 hour lesson structures, but the amount you accomplish is so limited, it's not usually worth the parent's trouble bringing the kids back and forth for such short lessons.

If you are teaching from your home, you shouldn't have to be responsible for a kid outside of lesson time, but inevitably, if you teach long enough, you will be. Parents are late picking up, or kids get dropped off, or come early from school, and they are "on your doorstep." So, you should try to have clear understandings about that, in advance, and a backup contact for each kid on file, for when things don't go according to plan with transportation, etc.

Overall, I think it's a lot easier to teach adult students. Their aims are more limited, and though you might go through a number of people to get a handful of students who will stick with you for some time, they can be as rewarding to teach as kids, and are much easier to manage overall.
posted by paulsc at 6:32 PM on October 3, 2006

Thanks folks. These answers were really what I needed to hear. I suppose I can mark all of these as "best", because they really are. I guess all you can do now is wish me luck!

Thanks again!
posted by snsranch at 8:09 PM on October 3, 2006

To protect your phones numbers go to Grand Central. You can get a free phone number in your areacode that will ring on your cell, apartment, office etc at the same time. You never miss a call and the caller does not have your direct line.

As for the teaching part, my kid's teacher charges them for groups of 8 to 10 lessons cash up front on the barrel head. It changes the risk of a no show from his risk you do not come to mine that he doesn't. Obviously make-ups are ok, but set a policy that any cancellation must ne 48 hours in advance or no reschedule.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:12 PM on October 3, 2006

Sometimes I ask them to pay for four lessons at a time - that way, in the event of a flake-out less than 24 hours prior, I'm covered.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 9:35 PM on October 3, 2006

Consider online, too--Craigslist, maybe the Reader (not too many parents there, though, I'd imagine). What you need is some word of mouth.

Money's money--if you are comfortable teaching all ages, by all means do it.

We're dipping our toes into homeschooling--you may investigate that option particularly if your time slot is in the middle of the day when it would be more difficult to get other younger students. This city has a pretty active homeschooling community, and they're always looking for folks to fill the gaps--music, as well as science (many homeschoolers worry about teaching science) and sports for what it's worth.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:44 PM on October 3, 2006

One point I'm surprised I haven't seen mentioned in this thread is you should charge for a month of lessons in advance at the beginning of each month. This way the parents and students are encouraged to get there on time and not blow it off. You still get paid even if the brat/student doesn't show. If they miss a lesson, try to reschedule a make-up, which may or may not be possible, depending on the case. Either way, you get paid for your valuable time. This is widely practiced.
posted by wsg at 12:38 AM on October 4, 2006

Well I guess I skipped right over JohnnyGunn's post. I'm a dork.
posted by wsg at 12:40 AM on October 4, 2006

I'm an adult guitar student, but this is what I can see. Zosia Blue is really correct about having an absentee policy. My instructor is relying on teaching to pay most of his bills. Every lesson either the guy in ahead of me or the guy after me fails to show up, sometimes both. He doesn't have an absentee policy and he'd like to have one but he's worried about appearing too difficult to get along with. On the other hand from my point of view his students (and their parents) are disrespecting him and his time.

If you're going to teach through a store they'll want a rental fee for the room. This is fine, but if you're also getting them guitar sales then you should be getting some kind of royalty as well then. My instructor left the guitar store and is renting space at a local arts building instead because of this.

Learn to problem solve your students problems. By this I mean understand what's holding them back. That's something my instructor isn't very good at. In my case I had to diagnose myself (I don't relax well and I also have a death grip on the fret board, pick etc. I've relaxed a little bit but I still feel a lot of tension that's slowing my progress). The only reason I could figure it out at all is because I've had similar problems elsewhere but it took me a year.

Listen to your students interests but don't be afraid to lead them in other directions either. My interests have broadened because my instructor introduced me to other music.
posted by substrate at 5:27 AM on October 4, 2006

I want to thanks you folks again. This was a great thread and I learned quite a bit.
posted by snsranch at 3:33 PM on October 4, 2006

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